Friedrich Nietzsche, the poster boy of atheists, once trenchantly quipped, “After coming into contact with a religious man, I always feel I must wash my hands.” Such was the high regard the German philosopher had for the concept of the almighty. Coming from someone who was nicknamed ‘the little pastor’ in his school days, for his prowess in the effortless recital of Biblical verses, it’s indeed ironical.
But irony has been a recurring theme with non-believers. Take Periyar, the respected Tamil rationalist. He was born EV Ramasamy Naicker and all his life, he railed against Rama the Swami and Ramayan the epic. Kamal Haasan, the outspoken thespian and atheist, did his schooling—of all the secular places—in Hindu Higher Secondary School. Even his name in Sanskrit means ‘Beholder of the Lotus’ which in turn is a sobriquet for Lord Vishnu. One must add here though that the official story is that he was named after his dad’s friend Yakoob Hassan, as a tribute to the protection he offered his father during his prison days.
Christopher Hitchens, the celebrated British author, who felt ‘antitheist’ describes him better than the limp ‘atheist’, did nothing to change his first name which literally means ‘bearing Christ’. Sam Harris, the other famed irreligionist, also carries the cross of a religious first name. For the uninformed, Sam is the diminutive for Samuel, the Hebrew word that signifies ‘name of god’.
To eliminate this apparent irony, atheists have started adopting names with zero religious connotations. Numbers are sometimes favoured—especially the Greek ones like Primus (one) and Quintus (five). God names are being dumped in favour of first names of famous iconoclasts—Charles (Darwin), Karl (Marx), Richard (Dawkins) and Bertrand (Russell) are in vogue now. If it’s a baby girl, parents prefer neutral floral or colour names. Something like Rose, Daisy, Violet, Camelia, Iris or Turquoise.
Month names come in handy, too. March, April, May, June, July and August are quite popular. Verbs are very much in circulation. Stuff such as Hope, Rock, Sparkle, Mark, Hunt and Glow. Sometimes science provides the fodder: Tesla, Quark, Lumen, Gene, Lycra, Curie, Symmetry, Benzene, Hawking and Newton. Some dive into comic books to fish out pearls (Flash, Kal El, Tarzan, Jughead, Charlie Brown). And the wacko types, who don’t mind spoofing religions, choose Saint Stupid, Pastafarian, Alwarpettai Aandava, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Beefbiter, Invisible Pink Unicorn, Ceiling Cat, Sub Genuis and things that will make you go, ‘Oh my god!’